It's all about health with the Indianapolis Colts, because if we knew we could count on quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Joseph Addai and wide receivers not named Reggie Wayne -- and even he has dealt with injuries the past few seasons -- there would be no concerns. Manning is coming off a season in which he posted his most passing yards and second-most touchdown passes, but he's coming off neck surgery. Addai has scored 47 touchdowns in five seasons, but he played only eight games last season. Then you have Wayne's knee, Dallas Clark's wrist, Austin Collie's head ... hmm, I'm thinking trusted colleague/injury expert Stephania Bell should just move to the great state of Indiana and follow this team 24/7.
Fantasy owners are showing caution in how they draft Colts, and while I've been pretty consistent in my trust of Manning, I have to admit this team could look like a house of cards without him. I was asked about top-10 wide receiver Wayne recently and discussed the risks associated with him, but the biggest concern is not his age, but rather the fact that Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky could be the ones slingin' the pigskin in his direction, not a future Hall of Famer.
Think about how many reliable wide receivers would become instant sell-high options were the Colts to announce that Manning will miss September games. Don't panic! I'm talking theoretically; the surgery Manning underwent for a bulging disk was months ago, and although we're not likely to see him throw a preseason pass, I remain optimistic he'll play in Week 1, and play well. He's Peyton Manning, right? He's always good. But I admit I'd be closed-minded if I didn't say this potential pain in the neck could be an issue that lingers and causes either missed games or a reduction in effectiveness. Plus, there are the normal recent concerns about the running game, the offensive line and the rise in interceptions.
Manning began the preseason as my No. 4 quarterback, but now he's sixth. It's not as large a change in philosophy as one might think. I'm going Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Michael Vick, in that order, and all in the second round incidentally, and then San Diego Chargers ace Philip Rivers -- who is pretty darn effective himself, having led the league in passing yards a season ago -- before Manning, though I'd take both Rivers or Manning in the third round. Rivers is healthy, and so is Vincent Jackson. Still, Manning at No. 6 is good value. I can't justify moving him behind Tony Romo, Matt Schaub or Ben Roethlisberger, who are more like fifth/sixth rounders for me. Of the top eight quarterbacks being selected in ESPN average live drafts, none have seen a larger decline -- though it's still minor -- in snake draft position than Manning over the past week.
We know Addai is productive, and although I kind of assume he'll miss a game or two -- hopefully not more -- I can't argue with his effectiveness or give credence to the thought that someone is going to legitimately steal touches from him. I don't want to say I've officially given up on Donald Brown making a difference, but he has shown no indication of it. The Colts drafted a Mike Tolbert-type bowling ball from Syracuse named Delone Carter, and according to a recent Camp Confidential blog by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky, he could score double-digit touchdowns. Wow! That would make him fantasy viable, in a Jerome Bettis-final-season sort of way. Still, Addai seems a bit underrated to me in the ninth round, being taken outside the top 30 running backs. Addai was a top-20 running back and on pace for nice numbers when a shoulder injury shut him down. I have him as a strong flex option, in the 24-26 range among running backs.
Since I trust Manning, I'll trust Wayne as a top-10 wide receiver, though I'm obviously following the news from Indy camp. Wayne did register a career-high 111 receptions in 2010, but for a career-low 12.2 yards per catch. The latter number has declined each season since 2006. I don't think he's too old to reach double-digit touchdowns, but good health of other receiving options -- namely Clark -- should reduce his receptions back to 90 or so, for those in point-per-reception formats. Still, he's good.
I'll defer to Stephania when it comes to the injury part of things, but indications are that Clark is healthy, and this won't be a tight end timeshare with the emerging Jacob Tamme. Let's just say there's no need to handcuff Tamme if you own Clark. I've never heard of a tight end handcuff, have you? Clark is a top-two-or-three tight end, though as I've noted recently, I've been waiting until Round 12 and beyond to draft tight ends.
Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon concern me the most, even more than Manning's neck, Wayne's age and Clark's wrist. I've seen Collie selected among the top 20 wide receivers in more than a few drafts, and I just can't go there. Garcon simply looks overrated from a real-life standpoint; he did close the season strong, but it was against a few questionable pass defenses (Cowboys, Titans), and he's erratic in route-running and catching the football. His yards per catch dropped precipitously, and I doubt he hauls in more passes with Clark and Collie back. Collie's upside is greater, but the next concussion could, unfortunately, be his last. As a human being, it scares me to watch Collie run across the middle awaiting a Manning pass. He scores touchdowns and doesn't drop passes, but I have to be sure I've secured two starting wide receivers -- and at least two running backs -- before I choose him. That might be difficult.